It is mainly the term "figure" here that I question. Here is the source: http://condor.depaul.edu/dsimpson/pers/typography.html

The author of the page seems to distinguish these terms:

Figures, Tables, and Illustrations. Images--from simple drawings and stylized icons to detailed diagrams and photographs--inevitably attract a reader's attention and are certain to counteract the effects of a gray page.

Would be great to have some hint about the difference between these elements.

the google dictionary affirms a figure is: a number, especially one which forms part of official statistics or relates to the financial performance of a company.

a documentation about html affirms: Use a element to mark up a photo in a document

I doubt it is what the author of the linked page talks about.

How do these different terms fit together?

Any hint would be great, thanks

  • 2
    In that context, a figure is an illustration in a book.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 19:34

4 Answers 4


Typically, figures are directly referenced in the text or are visual implementation of what is being explained in the text. i.e. "See figure x". Figures are used to better explain through visuals or to increase retention of ideas/concepts being explained within text. They can be "general" figures, such as a "Tips" icon whenever a tip is in the text.

Illustrations generally have no direct connection to the text. They may be loosely related in concept but nothing is directly connected to the text and the illustration could be removed without degrading the retention of the text.

Loosely.. one could state that all figures are illustrations, but not all illustrations are figures.


There are many definitions of the term figure(s) but typically, in layout, figures supplement the text and are referenced (e.g. See fig. 1)

Figures: a diagram or pictorial illustration of textual matter.


A popular resource for APA, one of the style guides used in academic writing, offers a list of common figures:

  • Graphs
  • Line graphs
  • Bar graphs
  • Scatterplots
  • Pictorial graphs
  • Circle (pie) graphs
  • Charts
  • Drawings and photographs



Since this is a document on typography and that section defines elements of a layout, the author must be talking about ways to use text to visually illustrate ideas. Then probably..

  • figures must refer to charts or technical drawings, of which there are many kinds
  • tables are probably just tables again with various formatting possible
  • illustrations, basicly anything else more complex than the above

I must limit the scope of this discussion to the non-moving static stuff that can be painted, printed, drawn or tooled onto paper or watched on computer screens. Everything below are only opinions.

Image is the most general concept. It's anything (printed, drawn, made with tools, painted, an onscreen pattern) that can be considered to be created, not appeared without anyone's intentional effort. If a television screen shows some random electronic circuit noise that's not an image, but if someone has intentionally grabbed a screenful of the same noise, that's an image. There's no image without a human intention to catch or make by himself something visible.

An image can be an image with no intentional relations other than the existence or it can present something. The latter means that it contains some intentional relations between the parts of the image or between the image and something outside the image. The relations can be real and verifiable or they can exist only in some imagined context.

A graphic artist creates images. He draws, paints, throws paint, shoots holes to a surface, uses computer software etc... It's well possible that his image presents nothing in his mind or in his speech or both, but some watchers see this and that or they say they see this and that. They can say it for their own intentions to get some power. This is how geniuses can be also made instead of being born with abnormally capable brains.

Ordinary people with no artistic intentions or talents also create images. They often have a good reason for it, for ex. to show what they have or want.

Back to the subject. An illustration is an image which presents something which is said also as text, illustration is a part of a work which contains images and text, it cannot exist without text. The relation between the text and the image can be undefined, it's enough that someone can see some connection.

A figure is an illustration which presents a single relation or multiple, but strictly defined relations.

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